Comfort in a Hard World

Romans 8:18-32




Let me read something before I read Scripture. I was reminded I’ve read this in a sermon about six years ago. I do not approve of everything the man that I’m about to read has written; there are many false things he’s said. But nevertheless, I think you have to footnote your sources. And this thing that I’m going to read to you is very good even though I don’t recommend wholesale, Buddhist, Christian, Harvard trained psychiatrist M. Scott Peck.

But on pages 15 through 17 he says the following. And I will read this to you and then we’ll read the Scripture because I believe this is true and well said.

Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others. I know about this moaning because I have done my share.

Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?

Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. With only some discipline we can solve only some problems. [RBV: The next statement is absolutely false:] With total discipline we can solve all problems. [RBV: No, Scott—you’re wrong.]

What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair. These are uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any kind of physical pain, sometimes equaling the very worst kind of physical pain. Indeed, it is because of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us that we call them problems. And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy.

Yet it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning. Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems, just as in school we deliberately set problems for our children to solve. It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn. As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Those things that hurt, instruct.’ It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems. [RBV: Well, I’m not quite so wise. I don’t welcome them and I sure don’t welcome their pain. The older I get, the more I realize I’m a sissy.]

Most of us are not so wise. Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away. [RBV: I do that. When I don’t know the answer to something, I pray and I don’t act and I procrastinate. Believe me. I’ve learned one thing with the Reformed doctrine of procrastination and that is: it works tremendously better than doing something that really isn’t God’s wisdom. I have learned in life when I don’t know what to do and I go ahead anyhow—and because there is pressure on me to do something—it has always created far more problems for me than procrastination. I recommend procrastination; the Reformed doctrine of procrastination.] We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away. [RBV: No, they don’t without prayer.] We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that by deadening ourselves to the pain we can forget the problems that cause the pain. We skirt around problems rather than meet them head on. We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them.

This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis... [RBV: He’s a psychiatrist now.] ...the primary basis of all human mental illness. Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental health. [RBV: And one thing I have learned in the 30 years I’ve been your pastor: there are no exceptions. We are all mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree. I am. I am just a little bit nuts and so are you. But that’s okay. There’s only one who walked our planet who wasn’t just a little bit nuts. That was the Lord Jesus.] Some of us will go to quite extraordinary lengths to avoid our problems and the suffering they cause, proceeding far afield from all that is clearly good and sensible in order to try to find an easy way out, building the most elaborate fantasies in which to live, sometimes to the total exclusion of reality. In the succinctly elegant words of Carl Jung, ‘Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering’ (M. Scott Peck, M.D. The Road Less Traveled, pp. 15-17.).

Thus far, the word of man. The Word of God: Romans chapter eight, verse 18:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (Romans 8:18-28).

May we pray?

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God of David and the prophets, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and by adoption our Father; we come to you in the name of Jesus and we ask that you would open our hearts to receive the Word of God. We pray through the ministry of your Holy Spirit that this Word would come to me and to each one of us as individuals so effectively and so powerfully that we will all be changed. We need that, Lord. I need that and everybody here needs that; that so, Lord, we may find ourselves by having lost ourselves; Lord, that we may come to live because we have died to self; that we may, in the pursuit of everything but ourselves find our self-fulfillment. Lord, open our hearts to the Lord Jesus through the ministry of the Word of God, through your Holy Spirit for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Introduction: Life Is Difficult.

You know, as we read this eighth chapter of Romans—particularly this middle section—the sufferings of the present time—those words, I think, echo in our minds as we think of Peck’s words. “Life is difficult.”

Look at how honestly the Scripture addresses that. Life is difficult. He speaks about the sufferings of the present time. Is life suffering? Is it predominantly suffering? I believe the answer of Scripture is: “Yes.” I believe that the answer of Scripture is this: That in spite of the fact—as we will see this morning—there is a compensating joy that comes, there is a joy unspeakable that we can experience in this life. Nevertheless, life in this world is characterized, fundamentally, under that one heading—suffering. That’s why he talks about it: “the sufferings of the present time.”

To live in this world is to suffer. And I know that that doesn’t go over well in a lot of quarters. People don’t like to think that way. It’s why they go to false prophets who tell them that they won’t have to suffer: “If you do this and this and this, then everything is going to be hunky-dory.”

People would rather hear a smiling buffoon tell them that everything is terrific, and they’ll have no problems, if they just support that ministry or do this or do that thing. They don’t want to sit under a Jeremiad for Jeremiads make us squirm. Jeremiads reinforce within us our deepest fears that life really is difficult, that we won’t experience everything we want to experience, the way we want to experience it. Jeremiads remind us that the world that we live in is a world that is not the world that God created. Jeremiads remind us that the world that we live in is not the world that God designed in creation. It is an altered reality. Jeremiads remind us that in spite of our best efforts, sometimes we fall on our face. Jeremiads remind us of people, who with the utmost sincerity set out to do some great and noble task, oftentimes not only fail, but fail in extraordinary ways. Jeremiads come to us and grip us in the middle of life when we have peaked somewhere in our thirties and begin the downward descent to death—not, hopefully, in my case for another fifty years. I’d like to live into my nineties. Well, I’d be older than my aunt. Wow. She died at one hundred, two and a half. I don’t know if I really want to live that long.

Jeremiads take us back to the sobriety and seriousness of life. Scripture is the only honest book that has ever been published because Scripture tells us the way that it really is and not the way that we would fantasize it would be. Scripture is as brutally honest as any cynic anywhere, and yet Scripture doesn’t leave us in pessimism and despair. Scripture makes us pregnant with hope, with the assurance that one day we will see the birth of our dreams in Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:18 describes life in the present world as suffering, but there are several things in this passage of Scripture that give us joy; first intellectually and then experientially.

I. God Did Not Spare His Son.

First of all, as we think about life in this world, turn over to the next page, Romans chapter eight and verse 32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all... He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:38). It’s easy for people who have read the Scripture superficially and come to understand that the Scripture teaches what we call predestination, or the sovereignty of God, the omnipotence of God, God’s in control of the world. Those are truths that great theologians of the past have understood from Saint Augustine to Saint Thomas Aquinas to Luther to Calvin to Knox. God’s in control of the world. It’s easy for us, once we’ve embraced that kind of concept, the sovereignty of God, somehow or other in the middle of our sufferings to blame God for our sufferings.

The book of Proverbs says: “A man destroys his own way and yet his heart rages against God” (Proverbs 19:3). Interesting thought, isn’t it? A man destroys his own way and yet his heart rages against God, as if it’s God’s fault that I am the way that I am.

For example: suppose I decide in an impulsive moment, wanting money, to do something highly illegal like taking a gun and going into a store and robbing the clerk at gunpoint. I become tried and convicted after having been shot in the leg. I live a life of pain without good medical care in the penitentiary. I’m subject to all kinds of brutal things because the penitentiary wouldn’t be so bad if you could be there without the kinds of other people that are there—people like yourself. And in all of that I rail against God and say, “I hate you, God, because you’ve put me into this position. Here I am in prison. It’s your fault. You’re God. You’re in control of the world. You could have kept me.”

The book of Proverbs warns us and says: “A fool’s heart brings destruction to his own way and yet his heart rages against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3).

I want you to understand something about suffering. God does not willingly afflict anyone with suffering (Lamentations 3:3). That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? God does not willingly afflict anyone in suffering.

If we have a lopsided understanding of the sovereignty of God we end up with a sense as if God, in a capricious way, decides arbitrarily—because maybe he’s having a bad day—to just throw a lightning bolt. “Let’s see....I wonder how...I wonder how Merrill will react if he gets cancer. Or I wonder how Bobby would react if he went bankrupt. Well, let’s see. That’d be fun. Okay...bankruptcy...cancer.”

I think some people have that view of God; that God is cold and distant, that he’s unknowable, that he’s an abstraction, that he’s arbitrary. But I want you to understand something about God and pain. And it’s this verse here in Romans eight about God and pain. In Romans chapter eight and in verse 32 we’re told he did not spare his own Son.

Now, there’s a lot about God we don’t fully understand. But the only thing that we can conclude when we read all of Scripture together is this: There’s only one God and Jesus is God. There’s only one God and God the Father is God. There’s only one God and the Holy Spirit is God. Yet Jesus is not the Father and the Father is not Jesus, and Jesus is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not Jesus, and the Father’s not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s not the Father; that there are three “consciousnesses”—for want of a better word—Persons—who simultaneously exist: the Father who speaks from Heaven, the Son who is baptized on earth, the Holy Spirit who at the same time comes down and lights on the head of the Son. And yet there’s only one God, not three Gods, one God. I don’t really fully understand it, but I learned a long time ago I need to bow the knees of my mind and reason to Scripture because Scripture clearly teaches this.

What I want you to understand is that when Jesus suffers, God suffers. What I want you to understand is that when Jesus dies on the cross, God dies on the cross, not as God, but as man. But let’s not minimize this unity between God and man in the person of Jesus.

There was a heretic—he was patriarch of Constantinople—named Nestorius and he minimized this union between the divine and the human in Jesus. He taught a heresy—Nestorianism—Jesus is really two persons: God and man, a human person, a divine person, two persons. Well, that doesn’t jibe with Scripture.

What I want you to understand is that God really did die on the cross but not in his divine nature, in his human nature. Jesus really died. When he died he died only in his humanity, but he is at the same time God and fully conscious and alert. It leads to a reason why, for example, the Church historically has referred to the Virgin Mary as the Theotokos—that is the Greek, “God bearer.” It means, to put it in Latin, she is the Mater Dei. She’s the Mother of God. No one who has ever used that terminology of Mary—Mary, the Mother of God—meant that the Virgin Mary, who is only human, somehow or another preceded the existence of God and gave birth to God. That’s not what that means. It means that the Lord Jesus, who is God, was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born. But the person who was inside of the womb of the Virgin Mary for nine months is not simply human but God. And so we have to understand that God is in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God goes through the trauma of birth in his human nature. God experiences, in his human nature, the powerlessness of being a newborn infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and then put to his mother’s breast to feed. God, in his human nature, experiences all of these things that you and I and every other human being has experienced. In fact, the writer of Hebrews tells us that there is no temptation that you or I have ever experienced that God himself—who cannot be tempted with evil—hasn’t been tempted with (Hebrews 4:15).

Does that sound contradictory? God, who cannot be tempted with evil, was tempted; not in his divine nature, but in his human nature. And yet the divine and the human in Jesus, we have in Jesus one person who is both one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man.

You say, “Oh, well, that’s terribly confusing.”

I realize it is. I accept it by faith because the Scripture teaches it and because all real Christians down through the ages have confessed this, who have studied it.

What I want you to see is that in this world you find yourself in, this world that’s not exactly the world that God created, this world where suffering is that which characterizes life on our planet, that God himself entered into the suffering and he entered into it to the fullest degree. I want you to understand there’s nothing that you’ve ever gone through that can hold a candle to what Jesus went through. Jesus suffered as no mere human being has ever suffered. Were Jesus only a man, he could never have endured what he endured, in one sense, because on the cross Jesus didn’t simply experience the judgment of God and the wrath of God due to one human being, but Jesus on the cross experienced the wrath of God due, the judgment of God due, for the sins of the world, as 1 John 2:2 tells us. “He is a propitiation, not for our sins only, but even for the whole world” (1 John 2:2), says the apostle John.

What I want you to understand, no matter what you’re going through, not just that an omniscient God understands, but an incarnate God went through...There’s nothing you’re going through, nothing you’ve been through, nothing you will go through, that the incarnate God hasn’t been through, hasn’t gone through. That’s the reality of it. God has suffered as you suffer, in his human nature.

That’s important as we think about evil in the world, as we think about a world that’s characterized by suffering, that we see a suffering God, because if we don’t see a suffering God, if we don’t see a crucified God, if we don’t see a God who has shared in everything we share in, in our experience, including being tempted to sin, including experiencing the guilt of sin but never sinning, experienced the guilt of your sin and my sin, not his own sin for he never sinned—he’s experienced every temptation and he has experienced every consequence of sin that you and I experience—in this world of suffering, if we don’t get a picture of a suffering God, then we are very likely tempted to become bitter at God. That’s the human condition.

“God, you could do something about it. Why don’t you do something about it? God, you could change my circumstances. Why don’t you?”

Romans chapter eight and verse 32 hints at the unveiling of a mystery that is profound. And that mystery is that God can’t do...God can’t do. How can that be? You’ve preached for ever 30 years in this pulpit that God can do, that God is omnipotent, that nothing can stay his hand, that no one can stop him and say, “What are you doing?”

But Romans 8:32 tells us about what God can’t do. God can’t forgive sin merely because he wants to. God can’t relieve human suffering merely because he feels our pain.

Why not?

Romans 8:32 tells us that there are things God cannot do. God cannot forgive sin simply because he chooses to forgive sin. We come back to a picture of God that is different from fatalism. And the picture of God that’s in the Bible is what? It’s a God who must act in accordance with his own holy nature because God cannot sin.

I don’t understand all of that, but put simply, it means that God could never forgive your sins or mine except one way. And that one way involved God himself in the person of his Son becoming a real human being in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary, taking the name Jesus, being born, living a sinless life and then dying as your substitute and mine. There’s no other way that God could forgive sins because God is not sovereign if you mean by sovereignty that God can simply act and sin and do what is evil, if he chooses to. That’s not the God of the Bible. God can’t simply act and do whatever might be on the basis of a whim, contrary to his own nature, committing sin. God cannot lie. God cannot steal. God cannot murder. Has God ever murdered anyone? No. God kills people every day and he’s going to kill you. He might kill you today. He might kill you tomorrow. He’ll kill you through a variety of means; basically, by just simply—in accordance with the laws that he has put within his creation—letting those laws take their place. He will kill you. Till Jesus comes again, every single human being will die. But God never murders. God cannot sin.

And what Romans 8:32 reminds us of is this: God always acts consistently with his own nature. God doesn’t sin. God could not forgive your sins and my sins, apart from someone dying for our sins, paying the price of sin because the wages of sin is death, because in the very beginning, in the structure of reality, God told our first parents “In the day you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, dying you will die” (Genesis 2:17). And therefore “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

God, in one sense—and it’s a poor analogy—is like a banker. Let’s suppose that you owe $100,000 on your home. Let’s suppose that you’ve become disabled and you’re no longer able to work. Let’s suppose that your monthly house note—let’s see, mine’s $808.91 a month. Let’s suppose that your monthly house note is $808.91 a month. And now your income is drastically cut. You’re going to lose your home. The banker’s your best friend. He loves you. He’d do anything for you, but he can’t pardon your debt.

What can he do? If your banker loves you enough and he’s wealthy enough, out of his own funds he can pay your note off. Then you don’t lose your home.

But let me tell you: No matter how much your banker loves you, no matter how much he’s willing to do for you, no matter how deep your friendship is and how many years it goes back he can’t just forgive your debt because if he forgives your debt that way, he’s stolen. But he can pay it. He can take your debt on himself. That’s, in a sense—with that poor illustration—the situation God finds himself in. God, who never wrings his hands and says, “What can I do?” looks down at a hopeless, helpless, Hell bent, Hell destined human race and realizes that there is nothing—absolutely nothing—he can do about it except for himself to come in the person of his Son and become a real human being just like you and me—except he never sinned—and die in our place as our substitute. It’s the only way.

So, in the middle of life with all of its suffering, let’s not have a wrong picture of God. It’s not a God who is sitting up there, who could do but won’t do. It’s a God who must act in accordance with his own nature. And he’s proven that. He’s proven his love while at the same time proven his character and integrity of character by coming and dying in our place. “He who did not spare his own Son” (Romans 8:32), Picture it: “did not spare.” It means that Jesus paid it all. It means that he suffered to the uttermost. It means that there’s nothing—absolutely nothing—in the entire repertoire of human pain, suffering and misery that Jesus didn’t go through. The Father held back nothing from the Son. There’s nothing left for you to do except, with the empty hand of faith—and faith, itself, is a gift of God through his Son—to accept the sacrifice.

So that’s our first comfort in living in a world where suffering characterizes it so much.

II. In Our Groaning, The Holy Spirit Groans Within Us.

There’s a second comfort in it; Romans chapter eight, verse 26. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26, 27).

What does that mean?

Again, we have to understand the nature of God. When we speak about the Holy Spirit, we’re not speaking about an abstraction. We’re not speaking about some impersonal force that emanates from God. We’re speaking about a real person—conscious, interactive—who experiences pain.

The book of Ephesians tells us: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30). Can the Holy Spirit be grieved? Yes. What does it mean to be grieved? It means to experience pain. It means to experience hurt. It means to experience terrible, terrible, terrible feelings.

The Holy Spirit—who is never incarnate in the sense that the eternal Son of God became a real human being—nevertheless lives inside you and me, if we’re Christians. And the amazing thing about this unity between the Holy Spirit and you and me is this groaning. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, [he says] but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans” (Romans 8:26).

Have you ever heard people groan? Have you ever groaned? Have you ever experienced something that was so devastating you didn’t know what to do but cry? Have you ever had pain that was so intense that you couldn’t articulate it, that you groaned in your pain?

I’ll never forget...you know, you prepare yourself throughout life for the death of your parents. But my only sibling—you’ve heard me tell it before—my only sibling, a brother eight years older than me, preceded my parents in death. I was stunned and shocked. He had been an Air Force officer. He had been a B-52 pilot. He had retired from the Air Force, an Air Force Academy graduate. Every thing that you could have going for you my brother had going for him. Unlike me he didn’t have a tendency to put on the beef. He was slim and trim and fit, and he had just retired from the Air Force thirteen months before, and his wife was working, and he had opened a small business on the side, which he did out of his home over the telephone and by mail. He bought and sold rare gold coins, and he catered particularly to military people who were aiming at retirement, helping them build a portfolio that would include ten percent of rare gold coins.

And he enjoyed it. He turned what had been a hobby when he was an Air Force officer into a small business. And he told me this in 1985. It was in the winter of ‘85 and he had just finished doing his income taxes for 1984, and he said, “Robert, I achieved one of my life long goals. I earned over $100,000 last year.” That’s back then. That’s a lot more money today with all the inflation that we’ve had since then.

“I earned $100,000”…no money problems, worked out three times a week, happy marriage, two children—dropped dead of a heart attack. What was my reaction? His wife, who called my wife within 10 minutes of discovering her dead husband; he fell on their bed sometime right around noon with his hand over his chest. My wife calls over here. What’s my reaction? I couldn’t understand my wife because she was weeping. I didn’t even know who it was, she was so broken up. And I said, “Who is this?”

And she said, “This is your wife. Marie called. Your brother is dead!”

Now, when I was a chaplain I learned that’s not how you say it because it produces the kind of reaction it produced in me. And you learn, in giving death messages—and I’ve given a lot of death messages in the past—you learn to say it a lot differently.

Alright—it was said and it was a shock. I dropped the phone, fell on the floor in my office and I began to scream. I didn’t know what to say. I just howled. I howled like a wolf. I howled and I howled and I howled. I want to tell you something. Do you want to understand the Holy Spirit? He’s a howler. He groans. He enters into human suffering and experiences it because he becomes part of us. I’m not saying that we’re little Jesuses. I’m not saying that we are God incarnate. That’s not what I’m saying and that’s not what the Scripture teaches. But we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In fact, when you read the Upper Room Discourse in the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th chapters of the gospel of John, you begin to understand that Jesus said that both the Father and the Son would dwell in us and the Holy Spirit. All three persons of the godhead dwell in us.

What does it mean that they dwell in us? Not that God is a passing influence on our minds. But he takes up permanent residence in us. He experiences what we experience. He tastes what we taste. And there’s not a cold and arbitrary detachment here.

I want you to know the next time that you find this groaning within yourself because of your pain and your hurt—because you live in a world that’s described as, “the sufferings of the present times,” that God himself, the Holy Ghost who lives in you, experiences it with you. It’s not your doing the groaning in Romans 8:26. Read it carefully. It’s the Holy Spirit who does the groaning.

“We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26). God groans. It is God suffering, God hurting, not just in the glib cliché of a politician, “I feel your pain.” It’s that God really does feel our pain because God has become part of us. He’s inside of us. He experiences our emotions. That’s why Paul says in Ephesians five: “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30). Don’t cause him more pain because he experiences pain in your pain.

And as you pray, even though you can’t even say what you want to say because the pain is so deep and so overwhelming, and it’s as if the billows of the darkest sea in the middle of the night are crashing over the bow of your boat and as wave after wave comes over the boat. Where is God in all of that?

God is with you in the boat. God is feeling your hurt. God is feeling your pain. And God is stirring you to pray because it’s the only thing, sometimes, that you can do. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t talk to God in Elizabethan English or Jacobean English. It matters that you speak to God sometimes allowing the Spirit simply to groan.

III. Jesus Christ Is Coming to Earth, and Our Suffering Will End.

Well, there’s another comfort in this affliction and that is that it’s not going to last. What we’re told here in Romans chapter eight and verse 18; this suffering is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The world’s coming to the climax of the ages. As I look at world events, I become increasingly convinced we’re nearing the time of the Second Coming of Christ. I don’t know how people who study history look at the world we’re in and not see that if they take the Bible seriously. Jesus is going to come again; really and truly, literally, physically, bodily. In the same way that Jesus ascended up in front of his disciples, he’s going to come back in like manner (Acts 1:11).

All of the events of history are coming to this omega point. And what we’re told is that when that happens death will be swallowed up in victory. Suffering will be no more. Sin will be done away with. There will be a new world order; not by boastful, proud men who think that they can impose on our world Heaven on earth. That’s the quest of fallen man from the day that Adam and Eve were driven by the cherubs out of the Garden of Eden: to get back in the Garden of Eden on our terms, to build our Tower of Babel that reaches to Heaven. Man will never succeed at it. What a joke that the United Nations has the words of Isaiah’s prophecy, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). It will never be till Jesus comes. Man is not going to establish the kingdom of God on earth. Christ will establish that kingdom on earth when he comes again. Then there will be peace. Then there will be harmony. Then there will be order. In the present time it’s suffering.

We’re told here that all of this is going to come to an end, that the world will be released from its bondage to decay. There’s a groaning that we experience in the present time. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). As you look at the world, the world is convulsing.

Have you ever been present at birth? I was present at the birth of four of my children. I was parking the car at the birth of one of them. She came mighty fast. I’ve been present at the birth of one of my grandchildren, and I’ve been in the room with many of you, not at the moment of birth, but in the hours that led up to birth. I try to do that. I’m not always able to come and pray. I always pray at home, or if I’m with someone else in a situation.

But I know this, two things about birth: as the moment of birth draws near the contractions come quicker and quicker together; as the moment of birth draws near the contractions become increasingly intense and painful. And as I look at the world that we’re in, I think that we’re at nine centimeters. I think that our planet is completely effaced. And I believe the contractions are coming with great intensity and great rapidity, with quicker and quicker intervals between them. I could be wrong. A day with the Lord is as a thousand years; a thousand years as a day. But we’re groaning for this. Our planet’s groaning.

And he says in verse 23, “We also groan.” Why do we groan? He says, “We groan within ourselves inwardly as we await our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). Christ redeemed us by his death but that redemption has not yet been applied.

What is the groaning in view in Romans 8:23? I submit to you it’s the groaning that Paul talks about as his present experience in Romans 7:21. “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25)

That’s the talk of a Christian man. He delights in God’s law in his heart but he experiences a daily and regular frustration with himself.

Let me tell you something about Christian maturity. The more mature a Christian is, the more frustrated he is with himself.

“Know yourself,” says the philosopher.

The more I know myself, the more I experience a groaning at the end of the day. I’m not saying that I’m as bad as I used to be. But I am telling you this: In spite of all that God has done for me in Christ on the cross and in me through his Holy Spirit from the day that I first became a Christian over 40 years ago, even in my best works, I fall short. And my response to that is groaning. I groan because I am not the pastor that you need. I groan because I’m not the husband that Sandy needs. I groan because I’m not the father that my children need or the grandfather that my grandchildren need. I groan because I’m not the kind of Christian I want to be. I’m not saying that there’s some area in my life of open rebellion and defiance against God. I’m simply saying that at the end of the day when I’ve prayed and done what I can do, I’m left with a sense of, “That was pathetic.”

And I groan. I groan.

IV. God Is Turning Our Suffering to Good.

There’s one last comfort here and we close with it—Romans 8:28. Jesus is coming again. We live in a world of suffering, a world of groaning, of groaning inwardly at our own imperfections. We know that we have the comfort of the Son of God at the right hand of the Father who is interceding for us right now, and he truly understand because he’s truly walked in our shoes. We have the comfort of the present Holy Spirit who suffers in our suffering, who groans in our groaning. But we have something else and it’s true. It’s the heart of the passage—Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28, 29).

What’s my comfort in affliction? It is: no matter how bad my life may be at a point in terms of suffering and nightmares and grief and anxiety causing situations, God is still God. The suffering God who suffers in my suffering, who enters inside me to live in me and is grieved in my grief, that God still is sovereign. And in this sovereignty he takes everything that happens and he puts a twist on it and that twist is: he’s turning it for my good. What does that mean? What’s the good?

We don’t define the good arbitrarily or abstractly: “Well, the good is I win the lottery.”

Have you ever thought about winning the lottery? Many years ago...I gave up gambling in 1968, in the fall of ‘68 when I got the fever once. And I said, “I ain’t never going to have that again.” And I’ve never gambled since.

But my kids, about 15 years ago—whenever it was, in the early days of the Louisiana Powerball—said, “You know, Dad? You ought to buy a ticket. Think of what you could do if you won.” And I started to think about it... Because God designed me to be a pastor, the first thing that would happen to me if I were worth $10 million or $20 million, I’d have to cease being a pastor. A real pastor is available twenty-four-seven. If you’re worth $20 million, you’ve got to be distant from folks. You’ve got to have your body guards. You’ve got to have your protectors. You’ve got to have unlisted phone numbers. I’d lose the reason I was created. Life would be very empty. My children would be at risk. Nobody is interested in kidnapping my kids...hold them for ransom. Well, I’ve got Visa. I’ve got MasterCard, American Express.

Just think of how your life would be altered. What’s good? Winning the lottery, getting this, getting that?

Have you ever thought: If a German shepherd who chased cars...how would he define the good? “I want to catch me a Suburban.”

Wow! Have you ever thought what would happen to that German shepherd if he got what he wanted, and he bit that front tire and—wow—and get those teeth really hooked into it and locks on it—wham, wham, wham, wow! What’s the good?

Romans 8:29 tells you what the good is. And it’s what we have to receive by faith: that God is interested in making me like Jesus. And he won’t spare anything to make me like Jesus that we might be...that he might be the firstborn of many brothers. We are predestined, according to verse 29, to be conformed to the likeness of the Son. That’s the good.

And I want to tell you: I’ve experienced a lot in life. I’ve raised a lot of Hell before I became a Christian as a teenager. I’ll tell you this: None of my kids ever put me through what I put my Mama and Daddy through. I was a terrible, terrible teenager who did things I can never tell you, with guns, with drugs—though we didn’t have drugs like we have today—alcohol, violence, very violent, angry, suicidally angry, very immoral person. I’ve experienced a lot of what this world has to offer and I’ve gotten to know people who have as well.

I’ll tell you this: There’s nothing, absolutely nothing in this world that can satisfy you like Jesus. And there’s nothing that is more fulfilling in this life than to begin to be made more like Jesus.

But to end with Peck as I began: It’s in suffering, it’s in responding to the difficulties in life—not by throwing in the towel—but by seeking God, by praying and believing God, by praising God, by faith, praising God.

Let’s pray.

Lord, I pray for anyone here today who doesn’t really know the Lord Jesus. In this world of suffering, what have they got? They’ve got nothing, Lord. They don’t have a Holy Spirit inside them, the Person, the third Person of the Trinity, grieving in their grief, groaning in their groaning. They don’t have a Savior at the right hand of the Father, pleading for them who understands their pain because he, himself, went through it. They don’t have a Father who is orchestrating everything to the end that they experience true joy in this life. They don’t have a hope and confidence about Heaven and a new world order when Jesus comes. All they’ve got is the emptiness and the groaning in a world that seems to be dominated by the law of fang and tooth. I pray for anybody here who doesn’t really know the Lord Jesus, that today would be the day that they would come and accept the wonderful thing that Jesus did for sinners in dying on the cross to take away our sins.

Lord, I pray for every believer as we take the Lord’s Supper. Prepare our hearts, Lord, to give our hurt to you, our pain to you, our doubts to you, our questions; and just to come and sit at Jesus’ feet, for Jesus sake. Amen.

Bob Vincent